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“THE LITTLE VICTIMS PLAY."
The friendship of Dale and Harefel grew with their growth. Life went by full of play and work, and before they had realised that boyhood could ever end, they were almost men. But though the Eton world was full of bustle and pleasure, Dale often went apart to think of it and of his part in it. Indeed, but for his cousin's unfailing pleasantness and quickening influence, he might have turned from his fellows in petulant scorn or cold contempt, or have slowly drifted away from them in proud shyness. Very few boys have time enough to dissipate a companion’s reserve; but Harefel came like a young David of fair countenance, and brought kindness and harmony into the tent, where Dale was sulking. Dale liked Harefel: so he liked his troop of friends, because they liked Harefel; and
so by degrees he grew fond of many of them for their own sake. He enjoyed the feeling of fellowship; his school-work became less distasteful, because his friends were doing the same; he threw himself more eagerly into the games, tasting the new delight of thoughtlessness, or bending his whole soul to desire of victory for the House. So it came to pass that in the eyes of most of his companions he appeared a good sort of fellow, seeking honour in the usual paths, and not much more wayward than other boys. His occasional fancies for solitude were dismissed as sulks, and his reading of strange books was half resented as affectation. In short, he was an odd sort of fellow, but not so bad. Of course he was not to be compared with his cousin. Everybody liked Harefel, and he liked everybody. He was almost incapable of suspicion, and would scarcely believe his own eyes, if they bore witness to the faults of a friend. His gaiety never made him unkind; and his serious moods could always be banished by a word. He lived every moment, doing his work easily and well, and enjoying all sport and fun. When he thought about his pleasant life, which was not often, he generally thought how much it was deepened and enriched by his friendship for Dale. But for Dale, his gaiety and popularity might so easily have led him into idleness and folly. But for him, he might never have felt that there was anything more important than cricket.
So these boys grew ever nearer to each other. Each believed that he owed much to the other; and each was deeply glad that he owed it to him. They liked to do all things well; and to each it was an added pleasure that the other thought it good. They walked and talked together; they ran and rowed together; they messed together; they read together, except where Harefel, with his cool good sense, refused to follow; they lived together, so far as the most popular boy in the school could live with a single friend.
In Dale's last half at Eton the two friends used much of the leisure time which was not devoted to football in practice for the school hurdle-race, and with such good effect, that on the morning of the contest it was generally believed that one of them would win. It was a splendid day in the autumn, so full of life that it was impossible to believe that the year was growing old. The air was quickened by a touch of frost, but the sun was bright. On such days overworked masters swing their sticks as they walk, and boys run frantic with joy. As Dale,
in a state of much suppressed excitement, turned into his dame's after school, he heard young people chattering before him, and one voice raised high above the others for emphasis. “Well, I would give anything,” said this shrill voice, “for Harefel to win.” The words made Dale stop, and in a moment the life and sunlight went out of the air. The speaker was a foolish pleasant boy, to whom he had shown many kindnesses, and given some good advice, and for whom he felt that sort of tenderness which we feel for weak creatures needing our help. Dale turned away, and went up-stairs to his room. There he walked backwards and forwards, growing more and more gloomy with every turn. The idle words of this boy seemed the voice of the school. He felt himself an outcast, removed by no fault of his own from the thoughts and feelings of his fellows. The tears came into his eyes, as he longed to show his whole nature to a friend. As he continued his mechanical movement through the narrow room, one moment he hated the talents which cut him off from sympathy, the next he hugged them to him with passionate scorn of his comrades, who knew so much less than he. Once with a moment's pause of horror he found himself thinking bitterly of his cousin, and of the popularity
which he gained so easily with a smile. The crowd. ing thoughts and feelings, and the restless movements, were stopped by Harefel's voice, which was calling him from the street. He did not answer, but stood still ; and as he stood, a thought struck him, which brought the colour to his cheek and the light to his eyes. His teeth fastened into his lower lip, and at the corners of his mouth was the suggestion of a sarcastic smile. Again the voice called him impatiently. He threw open the window, and nodding to the fresh face upturned from below, called out in his pleasantest tone that he would be down in a minute. As the two friends walked towards the meadow where the races were to be held, Dale was in the highest spirits. He saw the boy whose words had affected him so much, and called out gaily to him, asking if he wished him luck.
“Yes," said the other, who had quite forgotten that he was a warm supporter of the chief opponent.
Dale laughed so strangely, that Harefel looked at him with some surprise. “You are in great form to-day,” he said; and added affectionately, "you old brute, you know that you are at least five yards better than me in fine weather.”